Sunday, January 18, 2015

Readers Are More Than Just a Data Point

Assessment season is in full swing in my district. During the month of January and the beginning of February students are administered the NWEA, DRA-2, and a Writing Assessment. We have also begun planning for the SBAC, which will be administered in March. RIT scores, reading levels, projected growth and district benchmarks are swimming around in everyone's minds right now. 

Sometimes, I think, that the focus on data and whether or not a student met the district benchmark leads us to forgetting that there is more to students than just a score earned on an assessment. (Looking back in my blog archive, I actually touched upon assessment in this post: Two Hour Delay Reflection) Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan, authors of Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers, practically recognizes that data can consume the minds of teachers, but present a practical and meaningful way for teachers and administrators to look beyond the data points and step into the reading lives of our students through the  authentic process of Triangulating Data.

As I read Assessment in Perspective, I couldn't help to connect their work to the work I do in my new role as the K-5 ELA Learning Initiatives Teacher in my district. On page 3, the following statements resonated with me, " Many of us have been so busy trying to implement an assessment plan that little time is left to use it to understand our students. What is worse is that the value being placed on the 'high stakes' tests has caused teachers to question how the classroom assessments we have always used to guide our instruction fits into the equation." So often in PLC discussions and in side conversations with teachers, it is quite evident to me how stressed teachers are with the data we collect. Just this past year, we have created common pre and post assessments for the units of study, common formative assessments, unpacked the reading and writing Common Core standards and created PLC goals that would support teachers' SLOs and Professional Practice Goals. While this work was meant to relieve some of the stress of assessment and grading, it seemed to create more of a focus on numbers rather than the students. I think the missing piece to the implementation of the assessments was that there wasn't a true understanding of the assessments and their purposes.  The assessments may have been looked at as unnecessary and additional tests that weren't going to yield any new information. "If we use assessment to understand, not evaluate, then it becomes the key to growth. It is how we use and talk about assessment that makes the difference in the mind set of our readers and gives us the motivation to keep trying to be the best teachers we can be." This is were triangulating the data comes in.

Clare and Tammy make an excellent point. As teachers we need to change the language we use when talking about assessments. Instead of talking in percentages, and how many students did or did not make benchmark, we should be asking more questions and building our Assessment Literacy. We should be looking at not just one, but multiple data points, both qualitative and quantitative, when reviewing assessment data. And as we build our Assessment Literacy, we can continue to build our "literacy literacy". The more we understand and learn about assessments, the more teachers can ask more questions of themselves as teachers of reading.  The common assessments, NWEA, DRA-2 and the writing assessments only give us one snapshot in time of our students. Sometimes, as we review the data, the data does not always align. A student may perform really well on the DRA-2 and fall below benchmark on the NWEA. I always ask, "Why? What further information do I need?" But after reading Assessment in Perspective, I realize I need to take my questions further and ask,  "What is my purpose? What method should I use? What type of data do I need?" Asking those questions leads to so many more questions, that when answered, give us a much better understanding of student performance and students' reading lives.  As Clare and Tammy state, "...buried within all these data points are the stories of our students as readers. Assessment is about the pursuit of understanding our readers, and what we do in that act makes a difference in the life of a reader. The greatest learning has always come from the conversations we have about readers with our colleagues."

With more and more mandates coming down on the teacher profession, it is so pertinent that we stay true to our beliefs and guiding principles as teachers. I love how Clare and Tammy list their "two or three things we know for sure": 1. Assessment is more than a number 2. Assessment and instruction are inseparable 3.Our instruction can meet high standards and still be developmentally appropriate. I whole heartedly agree with each of the above three statements. The statements also brought questions to my mind such as, Have we at PLCs and School Wide Data Teams ever talked about our beliefs as educators? Have we shared our thoughts on assessment and what it means for us and the students? Have we ever talked about ways to engage students in the assessment process? In all honesty, I think we have only brushed the surface of these questions at PLCs and School Wide Data Teams. In order for teachers and students to be invested and engaged in the assessment process we need to go deeper by asking reflective questions, analyzing student work, in not only numbers, but also in the form of notes, observations, and reading and writing notebooks. We have to trust ourselves as teachers and the knowledge we gain each and everyday as we work with our students. "While the Common Core is telling "what we need to teach our kids, it suggests that we-teachers- need to be the ones to orchestrate "how" we will teach and assess the standards. 'The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, how how the teachers should teach."

Assessment in Perspective has given me a fresh look at assessment. I am excited to bring this new knowledge and fresh outlook back to the teachers I work with. For most of this school year, I felt like I was fighting an uphill battle with the administration of assessments and trying to build everyone's knowledge of the assessments and the purpose's behind them.  I realize, now more than ever, how important it is to validate and value the teaching that is happening in each and everyday in classrooms. Students and TEACHERS are more than just data points. I want to thank Clare and Tammy for writing such a thought provoking professional book. It was the kick in the pants I needed to start fresh in 2015. 


  1. Thank you Kara for putting our words into perspective. We too need that same kick in the pants to focus on the positive and remember we have the power to use assessment to understand our readers. When we work together and support each other it is so much easier. Please share your story with us and let us know how it goes -- we would love to learn with you.
    Clare and Tammy

  2. Thank you for sharing your was just what I needed after a long day of inservice! I will most definitely have to check out this book!

    Mind Sparks